My dad is telling some story about how annoying his coworker was today, and my family is listening intently. But all I can focus on is a Tupac Shakur line from a song that was released six years before I was born, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” He explained it to me last night. Tupac rapped to create change, to send words of positivity and realism out into the dark world, so I am told. I am FaceTiming him in a half hour, and he told me to think more about why that line is so powerful. I have some ideas, but I am most likely wrong, rap music does not speak to me like it does him. He is the most motivated, passionate person I have ever met. We have only been friends for a few months, and I am already having trouble keeping up.
That was four years ago. Oh, I forgot to mention who the “he” is. Jack White: the narcissistic, hilarious, know it all, amazing guy I get to call my best friend. Picture this, fourteen year olds Kat and Jack, on the phone for hours at a time, discussing a culture they have never been in and will never be a part of. It is a funny thought, truly. Here is another: those same kids, voice cracks and all, performing a duet of Kanye West’s “Runaway” at 3 AM. Let’s just say, that song has a lot of high notes. Album by album, artist by artist, we explored the world of music together. From David Bowie to Pink Floyd to Kendrick Lamar, we did it all. However, rap was our genre. Playing guessing games, learning every line of our favorite songs, performing and debating the influence and importance of lyrics, we were immersed. While we did all these things together, Jack always knew more. Because he basically studied rap, I always felt inferior to him. I rarely had moments where I brought up a point he had not thought of, or knew a song he did not.
Little by little, rap music started to take over my playlists, and my world. All the hours spent listening to Jack preach about songs and artists resulted in my own studying. I educated myself on the culture by listening, watching videos, reading articles and following rap magazines religiously. The summer before my senior year I started working at a bakery. After a month, my coworkers started to notice that I knew every word to every song ever, (their words, not mine). I would interject with facts about the lyrics and artist. I will never forget the day I heard my coworker yell, “You have a question about Kendrick [Lamar]? Ask Kat, she knows everything about rap.” I developed a reputation. All my hard work had paid off. See the thing about knowing “everything about rap” is not just about knowing the information, but caring for it. I have such a strong passion for music that it became part of my character. When I talk about rap, I am in my happiest state of mind. I have been told by peers that my level of love, joy and care for music is something that I should be proud of, and I am.
In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly. I cried. In interviews prior to the album’s release he stressed the influence rappers like Nas and Tupac have had on him, and how much he respects them. On Lamar’s 2015 album, there is a song titled “The Blacker the Berry.” I was ecstatic when I first listened to it and caught the reference. It was one of the first times I caught a connection, and the significance of it, on my own. I felt the change in my abilities, and my confidence grew. When I told Jack, he got tears in his eyes. That may be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, he was proud. He made jokes for weeks about how he could not teach me anything else, and that his work here was done. It really is the little moments and accomplishments that make you feel like you are moving up in the world. I am wise, I know.
Jack is now eighteen, living in Manhattan and is still a know it all. We debate about the meaning of lyrics from past discussions to this day. We do not update each other on the news of the rap world anymore, because we know the other already knows. This all started with him teaching me the basics about rap itself, rhymes and whatnot. Jack sent me a text last week asking me to edit and critique his own verse and beat. Now, he is asking me for advice and actually cares about my opinion, and listens to it. Years later, I worked my way up to become a know it all, too.